Common Crane
Common Cranes

Research, I used to teach my students, is systematic, methodical, orderly. Learn where to look and how to look, and more often than not you’ll find what you’re after.

The spice of the scholarly life, though, is finding what you’re not after. I was startled this morning on leafing through Alfred Bouchard’s 1878 glossary of theatrical language to find this entry, s.v. “Grues”:

Scientists claim that this is a bird of the wading order; others say that it is a mechanical construction intended to raise loads.

We are in quite a muddle, since the characteristics of the bird “crane” are to have half-naked legs, to love travel, and to have the top of the head bare and red; and the machine “crane” is made up of gears, pins, and winches, and can be fixed or mobile, single or double.

Now our grue¬†shares something of both: it is single, and it often has red hair, many machinations, and bare legs — not to mention the rest; it sometimes has a fixed place of business on the street, but it is also mobile and loves to travel. It lives pretty much everywhere and is at home especially in the small theaters of Paris.

Does it belong to the realm of ornithology or of machinery? We’re at a loss.

Whatever could Bouchard be talking about?

Manet, Nana